'Allo Gobi

CDMA king-pin Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is setting the bar high for wide-area laptop chipsets with its "Gobi" silicon, which can roam across GSM and CDMA networks almost anywhere in the world. If the chipset works as advertised it will be a boon for world travelers and a potential challenge to the WiMax technology favored by Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and others.

Qualcomm says that notebooks featuring the multi-mode Gobi system will be able take advantage of the high-speed mobile Internet services offered by leading network operators in virtually all parts of the world, as well as GPS location services, when the chipset ships in second quarter of 2008. What this means in practice is that a GSM Vodafone UK user should be able to hop across the Atlantic and roam onto the Verizon Wireless CDMA 3G network. (See Qualcomm Intros Solution.)

The cynical amongst you may note that the shipping date for Gobi coincides neatly with when Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is expected to start rolling its XOHM mobile wireless service in earnest and shipping some of its initial WiMax cards. Qualcomm, no friend to WiMax, is utilizing the key advantage that these more established cellular network technologies have over the wireless broadband upstart, the global reach of GSM and CDMA that WiMax won't be able to hope to match for years.

Sprint, Intel, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) or others could naturally put out their own multimode cards that incorporate WiMax. In fact, Barry West, Sprint's 4G head, has explicitly promised multimode chipsets for the XOHM. These, however, seemed more focused on roaming between Sprint's existing CDMA infrastructure and its new network.

Intel, meanwhile, is slated to deliver a WiMax chipset in May and seems to be focusing its efforts on combining metro-area networking with its Centrino WiFi chipsets via so-called "echo peak" technology. The silicon sumo may argue that combining WiMax and WiFi is actually more of a sensible option for the everyday user, who isn't jetting off around the world every other week.

Qualcomm, however, may be betting that high-powered business travelers are exactly the kind of people who could be earlier adopters of WiMax wireless broadband technology and may instead be tempted by the Gobi go-anywhere chipset.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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